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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Keeping momentum against the Pittsburgh Pirates

Can the Nationals build on a series win against the Braves as they head to PNC Park to take on the Pirates?

Washington Nationals v. Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Well, would you look at that? The Washington Nationals managed to win a three-game series against the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, their first series win against them since a two-game series sweep against them in late May 2019.

After matching blowouts in the first two games of the series, the Nationals dug in and pitched brilliantly to close out the series finale and they continue their road trip on a high note.

The second part of the road trip is a trip north to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have started the season 2-3 with a series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals before splitting a quick two-game series with the Chicago Cubs earlier this week.

Here’s the lowdown from PNC Park ahead of the four-game weekend series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Thursday, April 14th, 6:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Friday, April 15th, 6:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Saturday, April 16th, 6:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Four: Sunday, April 17th, 1:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Joan Adon (0-1, 8.31 ERA) vs JT Brubaker (0-0, 12.00 ERA)
  • Game Two: Erick Fedde (0-1, 4.50 ERA) vs Mitch Keller (0-1, 9.00 ERA)
  • Game Three: Josh Rogers (1-0, 1.69 ERA) vs Bryse Wilson (0-0, 6.75 ERA)
  • Game Four: Patrick Corbin (0-2, 10.80 ERA) vs José Quintana (0-1, 1.69 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Josh Bell: Well, this was too poetic not to have Bell as a point of focus in this series preview against his former team. The first baseman has definitely made his mark early this year.

After a slow start last season, Bell must be glad to have flipped the script in 2022, going 9-for-25 (.360) in the first two series of the season, during which he has a pair of home runs and has collected six RBIs hitting behind Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz in the order.

He’ll hope to keep his hot start going at a ballpark he’s all too familiar with this weekend.

Ke’Bryan Hayes: Fresh off of signing a new deal eight-year, $70 million contract with the Pirates — the largest deal the franchise has ever given out, which probably isn’t saying a huge amount — Hayes is unsurprisingly looking like an absolute steal at that price.

In his first five games of the season, the young third baseman is slashing a strong .500/.526/.611 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. He’ll cool down from that pace at some point, but he appears to be locked in at the plate right now.

Who’s not?

Victor Robles: Robles continues to have another miserable start to a season in 2022, struggling mightily at the plate and providing more Jekyll and Hyde defense.

At the dish, Robles is 0-for-15 to start the season and was only able to get on base for the first time this season when he was hit by a pitch on Monday. He also made a big error in Tuesday night’s game too.

If the struggles continue, he could start to lose at-bats to a combination of Lane Thomas, Dee Strange-Gordon, and the hot-hitting Yadiel Hernández.

Cole Tucker: The former shortstop of the future for the Pirates, who has been surpassed by the shortstop of the present, Kevin Newman, who will soon be surpassed by the new shortstop of the future, Oneil Cruz. It’s certainly been a fall from grace for Tucker.

Now as the team’s right fielder, he’s off to a sluggish start. In his first three games, the converted shortstop is 0-for-10 with three strikeouts and no walks and was benched yesterday in favor of Hoy Park. He may need a solid series this weekend to maintain a starting spot.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Pirates storylines from our friends at Bucs Dugout...

One more thing to watch

Arguably the main talking point for the Nationals coming out of the first series of the season against the New York Mets was the futility of the bottom half of the order at the plate.

Outside of the team’s usual top five hitters — César Hernández, Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz, Josh Bell, and Keibert Ruiz — the rest of the hitters went a combined 3-for-52 (.058) in the first four games of the year while notching just two RBIs.

It was pretty clear they needed to step up to add length and help out the top half of the order.

In Atlanta, it was at least slightly better. That same group of players combined to go 14-for-55 (.255) including a home run by Maikel Franco during Monday’s blowout win.

“We’re going to need those guys,” manager Dave Martinez said on Monday in Atlanta. “They’re just as important as the first four or five guys we’ve got in the lineup.

“I think Darnell [Coles] and [Pat Roessler] have done a great job of talking to them as a group about what we need to do and what we need to do to get better, and they took it to heart today, the chases were down, we saw I think 200 pitches today, so that’s pretty awesome.”

Maybe it’s not quite as important as Martinez implies, providing the top half of the order can provide enough thump, however, to put up crooked numbers consistently, yes, they are going to have to step up their game, particularly the likes of Victor Robles and Alcides Escobar, who have yet to show much offensively so far this season.

The Pirates do at least present a golden opportunity to do just that, with a pitching staff that many expect to be one of the weaker units in the majors this season.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: The last time that Freddie Freeman wasn’t the Braves’ first baseman for the opening series of the season between the Braves and Nationals was 2013. Who was the first baseman for the Braves in that game?

Answer: Evan Gattis

As mentioned in our last preview, we’re trying out a new feature in our series previews this year. We’re going to have a trivia question each series for you to try your hand at and answer down in the comments, then we’ll reveal the answer in our next series preview.

Here’s the trivia question for this series against the Pirates...

The Nationals acquired Josh Bell from the Pirates last offseason, marking the first time the two sides made a major trade together since the Nats acquired Mark Melancon at the trade deadline in 2016.

In that deal, Washington gave up Felipe Vázquez, and which other pitching prospect to acquire Melancon?